SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Nationally and locally, laws meant to clamp down on the production of methamphetamine are contributing to a shift in drug activity - from the producer to the dealer and user.
Numbers of active or previously active meth labs found by authorities are actually trending down. We spoke to local drug investigators about what they're seeing and why that doesn't mean we should let our guard down.
Numbers posted by the Drug Enforcement Administration really illustrate how dramatic this change is. The DEA has 10 years worth of data for meth lab incidents, from finding the labs, dump sites and meth-making material. In 2004, Georgia logged 545 incidents. That number gradually declines all the way down to only 24 meth lab incidents. That means less gearing up in these suits for meth lab clean-ups.
Local drug investigators believe the reason is dealers are now driving to major hubs like Atlanta, buying crystal meth in bulk, and bringing it back to the Coastal Empire.
"And there are really two reasons why they do that. One, they believe crystal methamphetamine provides a stronger high, and two, by buying it in bulk and bringing it back to Chatham County, the would-be dealer/user could then stand to make a very large profit because they were able to buy, obviously a larger quantity for a smaller amount, and then sell it for larger amounts here locally."
CNT Assistant Deputy Director Gene Harley says the crystal meth is usually made in super-labs in other countries like Mexico and bought by the pound.
Earlier this week, the DEA seized about 500 pounds of meth in the Atlanta area, hidden in Disney figurines, all coming from Mexico.
Meth can also be liquefied and smuggled into the U.S. and crystallized in meth conversion labs.
"You cannot look at the meth lab seizure numbers and say, wow, there's really been no more seizure numbers, so meth must be gone, because that's not the reality. The reality is methamphetamine is still very much a problem in Chatham County, and the number of users is still pretty much the same if not higher," Harley said.
Here's a breakdown of meth lab busts that were either active or previously active here in Chatham County. 2015 and 2016 were the busiest years for CNT's lab cleanup team - with five labs found each of those years, but the numbers have dwindled. Last year, only two were found - one in Pooler and one in Port Wentworth.